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Latest #USElection Scandal comes as Manna from Heaven for #Trump campaign

Nearly every ‘normal’ person I’ve spoken to on my current trip to the USA is fed up by this election. And they’re stressed out and anxious about it too.
The latest twist in the saga has ensured that the contest will probably be a lot closer than envisaged – and it brings with it a fittingly seedy tinge to cap off an election in which most people feel that political culture has reached the gutter.
Up until last Friday, a landslide for Democratic Party presidential candidate Hilary Clinton over rival Republican Donald Trump looked a certainty.
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Trump was trying to appeal to key demographic groups but his campaign seemed to be hitting the same old barriers.
Importantly, his standing amongst women has been consistently poor and last week it seemed to be business as usual. Take his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who owns a clothing brand. Her fashion line was last week hit by a Twitter campaign – #grabyourwallet – a play on her father’s incautious remarks about where he might like to grab women. Trump fought back by assembling the entire family for a television interview during which he insisted he didn’t care about his brand, he cared about the country. And he respects women, too. In fact ‘no one’, he claimed, respects them more than him. He then followed this up by surprising his wife Melania live on camera, telling the Slovakian former model she’d soon be giving 2 or 3 speeches. She looked shocked at the news. Hot on the heels of this came Newt Gingrich, former house speaker and prominent Trump supporter, telling a female news anchor she was ‘obsessed by sex’. The Trump campaign seemed to be stuck in the same old patriarchal ruts.
Republicans I met confessed that the election outcome may well be more disastrous for their party than anyone previously realised, worrying they’d not only lose the presidency, they’d lose control of Congress too.
Everyone’s focus last week seemed to be on what the next Clinton government would look like. It was reported that current Vice President Joe Biden was being lined up for the Secretary of State job. Such was the certainty of a Hilary victory that I popped into Biden’s local deli and tried his trademark sandwich: maple turkey, fresh aragula, champagne mustard.
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As I munched on the ‘Joe Biden Special’ the champagne in the mustard seemed appropriate: a Democrat victory was assured.
Yet even before the latest scandal there came troubling signs for Democrats. By Thursday Trump was narrowing in on his rival in the polls.
And then on Friday, completely unexpectedly, the scandal around Hilary Clinton’s email was cranked up several notches by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when it announced that an ongoing investigation into the husband of a top Clinton aide had yielded yet more emails from the private email account Hilary controversially used while Secretary of State.
This latest revelation is likely little more than a storm in a teacup, but the news comes as manna from heaven for what was a faltering Trump campaign.
Speaking on a whirlwind tour of midwestern states in the last two days, Trump has used the scandal as further evidence of what he says is the corruption of the Washington establishment. Speaking in Colorado, he did nothing to allay fears that his supporters will subvert the democratic process should he lose. The language was zero sum. ‘This is the last chance’ – he told supporters – to right the wrongs of a corrupt elite, a once in a-lifetime chance. To chants of ‘lock her up’ and ‘drain the swamp’, Trump called his ‘one of the great movements of all time’. And he returned to a familiar theme: his campaign’s financial support comes from him and his humble $61 donors alone; Hilary’s comes from ‘the politicians’ and her wealthy Wall Street donors.
Trump’s now outdoing Clinton on the road, putting in an eye-reddening rollercoaster tour of western states. He seems energised by the latest scandal and his party is breathing a collective sigh of relief. Trump is also playing the strongman. Joe Biden? Trump claims he’d blow at him and he’d fall over, for Biden is ‘almost as exhausted as Hilary’; Trump insists his rivals have no toughness, no strength, ‘no physical stamina’.
But we are also seeing a milder Trump. Today he reached out to African American voters – ‘give me a chance, what have you got to lose?’ was the message. In an effort to claw in those stubbornly opposing him he said he wanted ‘clean air’ (although he still backs fossil fuels) and wants to win over women. There’s been a consequent upsurge in ‘Women for Trump’ rallies organised by his daughter in law, featuring lots of women of all shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds in pink ‘Women for Trump’ blazers. In Colorado on Sunday Trump even held up a rainbow LGBT rights flag.
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Despite the recent shot in the arm for Trump, Hilary Clinton should still win the election.
Hilary’s team claims that, in his recent intervention, the FBI Director was in breech of the Hatch Act which prevents FBI officials from attempting to sway an election.
But what is alarming for the Clinton team is that the polls had started to shift towards Trump before the FBI scandal. Twenty percent of Americans have voted already, but there are seven states where you can change your vote if you’ve voted as an absentee. The Hilary Clinton team, panicked by all this, will now up their game on the ground among minority voters.
Meanwhile, while Trump has surged in Florida, he is still behind in two states critical to any Electoral College comeback: North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
With a little over a week to go, however, the latest scandal to rock the Clinton campaign has ensured it is still all to play for.
When it comes down to it, the upshot of the recent brouhaha is likely to be a Clinton Presidency achieved by a narrower margin and tainted by the malodour of corruption and beset by legal challenges from the outset.
Therefore, while the majority of Americans may anticipate the coming end of a horrible race, as they do so there are ever more troubling signs for the future of US democracy
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Desperation and Democracy: #Trump, #Clinton, and the #USElection

Each Wednesday lunchtime until US Election Day (8 November) I’ll be providing updates on the Presidential campaign for Liverpool’s Radio City Talk -105.9 FM- and on this blog

Meet Mike. A stocky US Military veteran aged 62, he has a neck as thick as it is sun-reddened. He loves his right to bear arms and he hates anything that resembles socialism, including wider health coverage under America’s Affordable Care Act 2010 (often dubbed ‘ObamaCare’). Mike is a private security guard in Wilmington, DE, and has voted for the Republican Party all his adult life. Until this election, that is. This time around, he tells me, his distrust for his party’s presidential candidate Donald Trump means he’ll be abstaining.

And yet he seems to match the stereotype of Trump supporter perfectly. So why, I ask him, won’t he vote accordingly? “Because I love my country” he replies. Mike explains further. He is worried that Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric risks him becoming a stooge for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Although he agrees with much of what the property-mogul-turned-politician says, when it comes to national security and foreign policy he feels that Trump is simply too unpredictable.

The ‘Rigged Election’

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Mike’s distrust of Trump has found reflection in the most recent polls. The latest, from the state of Utah – solidly conservative, solidly Republican, predominately Mormon – indicates that Trump only has a 1% lead over independent conservative candidate Evan McMullen.

Trump has responded to this, and similar, indications by suggesting that the election race is not only being ‘rigged’ in his opponent Hilary Clinton’s favour by the mainstream media, but that such bias will operate at polling booths as well.

It’s an extraordinary claim, but one which speaks to the fact that this US Presidential race is unusually hostile.

On this score, it’s important to point out that not all the blame lies with the shrill Trump campaign. The USA does not have a moderate, supposedly ‘neutral’ media giant like the BBC to oversee things. Instead, the battle between broadcast giants ABC (traditionally Democrat) and Fox (traditionally Republican) has become as heated as some of the exchanges between Trump and Clinton.

And then there’s the menacing actions up and down the country which point to a wider resort to direct action. Two days ago, in Virginia, a Trump supporter stood outside the office of local Democrat candidate Jane Dittmar for 12 hours with his firearm exposed. However, as the recent fire-bombing of a Republican constituency office in North Carolina shows, resort to such behaviour is not the exclusive preserve of one camp.

Desperation and Democracy

What many observers worry about is that the growing sense of desperation around the Trump campaign, as he continues to struggle in the polls, will incite angry white men with guns to challenge the result of the election on 8 November.

Trump appeals to a strong libertarian streak within American culture – the corrupt federal government wants to tax us more, they want to take our guns. He also appeals to working class people who feel that it is too easy for African Americans to get ahead by playing the ‘race card’ and are tired of what they see as a decade of liberal political correctness that does not operate in their interests.

But those concerns are nothing new; where this election differs is the radical unpredictability of Trump, something that has alienated the Republican Party establishment and even rank-and-filers like Mike.

You know this is a different type of campaign when another Mike (Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate) assures people that their campaign will respect the election result only for Trump to undermine him a few hours later by claiming the election will be rigged not just by the media but at polling booths.

Trump’s resort to ‘Wikileaks’-inspired ruminations, often via Twitter, has led to an explosion in the humorous hashtag ‘Things Trump Claims are Rigged’ – with wits suggesting other spurious alternatives such as ‘door locks that are meant to prevent him walking in on undressed teenagers’, ‘the science that supports climate change’ and ‘his own multiple bankruptcies’.

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It’s easy to lampoon Trump, but the media circus around him is not just due to his policies or his indiscretions, it’s because he is a genuinely good performer. I’ve met plenty of black American voters, for example, who admit to liking him as a TV personality. By contrast the majority of Democrats I’ve spoken to – even in staunchly liberal eastern states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut – don’t like Hilary Clinton, viewing her as a merely the ‘least worst’ candidate. The Clinton team have certainly done their homework in the last few weeks in exposing Donald Trump’s past, but remain hamstrung not by their own candidate. It’s not just Hilary’s lack of ‘charisma’ that’s problematic but her knack, like her opponent, of offending huge swathes of the electorate; her past remark that she could easily have forsaken politics for a life of domesticity, seen as an insult to American housewives, is now regularly dragged up, as is her ‘basket of deplorables’ comment: now a badge of honour for Trump supporters.

But there’s a greater danger here in Trump’s rhetoric. Firstly, as many have suggested, it calls into question whether his supporters will respect the democratic result and the peaceful transfer of power. But remember, too, that Americans are going to the polls on 8 November not just to elect a president but to elect members of the House of Representatives and a host of local and state officials such as mayors. Rumours of ‘rigged polls’ tarnish democracy more widely.

Secondly, and much more likely than an armed Trumpist insurrection following his defeat, is a prolonged legal battle instigated by his campaign which will stall the swearing-in of the new President. Talk of ‘rigged polls’ seems a harbinger of this. And, again, the result of such a long process may be that people’s faith in democracy suffers.

We Can’t Rely on Polls

Ultimately, the outcome of this memorable US election will, as per usual, come down to swing states – most notably Florida (remember George Bush winning here in 2000?) and Ohio. And all the indications are that it’s not looking good for Mr Trump.

So with much of his party against him and even died-in-the-wool Republican voters worried about where he might take the country, it would appear that all Hilary Clinton has to do in the next TV election debate (9pm Wednesday ET / 2am Thursday GMT) is calmly rebuff Trump’s wilder accusations while coming across as the steadying hand.

If only it were that simple. If a week is a long time in politics, there are still three to go. If the polls are to be trusted, it should be in the bag for Hilary. But, as the results of the recent referendums on ‘Brexit’ and the Colombian peace process have shown, pollsters sometimes get it very wrong indeed.

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